Categorized | Criminal Justice

Tough but Intelligent

Tough but Intelligent

Simon Hoggart of the ‘Guardian’ has a theory that if the opposite of a remark is plainly ludicrous, then the thing was not worth saying in the first place. So when David Cameron uses a major speech to announce his new policy on crime as ‘Tough but Intelligent’, Hoggart asks: “Does he mean that the previous policy was ‘limp but stupid’? ‘Feeble but demented?’”

Speaking at the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Cameron promised tougher sentences, including mandatory life sentences for third-time serious offenders, a review of punishments for knife crime, and unlimited fines to compensate victims. The cheapest and most effective method of reducing crime was rehabilitation he said, promising that in future, all prisoners, not just those on longer sentences, would be eligible to take part. It would be the norm to use private companies and charities to deliver such programmes.

But there will be no additional money to back up this call for tougher sentencing and more rehabilitation. Juliet Lyons, director of the Prison Reform Trust charity, said the government needed “to know you can afford it, you can deliver on it and it will work, rather than create a headline.”

The day after Cameron’s speech, justice secretary Chris Grayling announced new legislation in the Crime and Courts Bill that will mean adult community sentences will contain a punitive element, such as a fine, unpaid work, curfew or exclusion from certain areas. “We’re today putting punishment back into community sentencing,” he said. “This is about sending a clear message to offenders and the public that if you commit a crime, you can expect to be punished properly. Community sentences are not a soft option any more.”

But when these plans were originally announced by his predecessor, Ken Clarke, the Ministry of Justice’s own impact assessment warned the move could increase re-offending if the punitive element squeezes out rehabilitation measures.
Just a few days after hosting the Prime Minister, the CSJ threw a large bucket of cold water over one of his pet initiatives. Immediately after the riots of August 2011 Cameron declared war on gangs, despite evidence from his own home secretary that only 13% of riot related arrests had been of gang members. Enforcement tactics followed and 200 gang leaders were arrested.

Now one year on the CSJ has published a report ‘Gangs – Time To Wake Up’ looking at how gang crime and fear of gangs has changed since the summer riots. The policy has failed. The removal of more than 200 gang ring leaders from London’s streets has resulted in a vacuum in which younger gang members have grabbed power on a wave of violence. Christian Guy, Managing Director of the CSJ, says: “Removing gang ‘elders’ has created a Lord of the Flies environment in which anything goes.”

He goes on to say: “Political commitment is waning and the Government and local authorities have mistakenly assumed that its new strategy represents job done – it could not be more wrong…Furthermore, nine out of ten CSJ Alliance charity respondents reported that they had not been approached to take part in any preventative work following the riots. Such a lack of engagement with those who really understand gang culture is indicative of a government being asleep at the wheel.”

Meanwhile, in another part of the jungle, Dominic Grieve, the very well respected attorney general, told the Commons justice committee that the UK’s international reputation would suffer if Britain was seen to be breaking its treaty obligations by denying serving prisoners the vote. He clearly had no idea that the prime minster was going to announce barely two hours later that “prisoners are not getting the vote under this government.” Just another minister left swinging in the wind.

Law and order is by no means the only area where policy is made on the hoof, leaving departmental ministers and civil servants to try and catch up. ‘Tough but Intelligent’ or ‘Weak and Stupid’?

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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